Middle East

Libya capital clashes 'worst in two years'

Rival groups are vying for power and control over the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Clashes are continuing for the second day among heavily-armed militias in the Libyan capital Tripoli, with one dislodging another in at least two posts, a five-star hotel and a barracks, in what appears to be the worst outbreak of violence in the city in two years.

Competing militias have chopped Tripoli up into fiefdoms and power centres after longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's ruler for 42 years, was ousted and killed in an uprising in 2011.

Witnesses in Tripoli said on Friday that gun battles rocked the southeastern Nasr Forest district and adjacent neighbourhoods as residents were advised by a local emergency body affiliated with the Interior Ministry to remain home and away from windows.

The clashes started on Thursday and have reportedly killed at least eight, according to news agency LANA. During a lull in the violence late on Thursday night, panicked residents could be seen lining up outside petrol stations to stock up on fuel.

In a statement Friday, UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler called for halt to the fighting, saying he is "extremely alarmed".

"It's completely unacceptable for armed groups to fight to assert their interest and control, particularly in residential areas, terrorising the population," he said.

Reached by phone, a female resident in Tripoli said that families had locked themselves in their homes.

"We haven't slept all night and we haven't left the house since yesterday. All we are hearing is screaming, bombings and gunfire," she said, "the security situation is going from bad to worse."

"We just want the militias to leave," she pleaded.

The UN-brokered unity government's spokesman Ashraf al-Tulty said that a ceasefire agreement has been reached among warring militias but revealed no further details. Given the fluidity of the situation, it remains to be seen whether the victors of the clashes will back the internationally-recognised body.

"This is a struggle over power. Each of the warring parties has its political and ideological agendas," said Sami al-Atrash, a Tripoli resident and a legal expert. "The clashes are belated. They were expected at any moment and finally happened," he said.

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